Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mother-Daughter Battles

The Prickly Barnacle

You prickly, tickly barnacle
Clinging to me as you push away
Tearing my flesh as you flail about
Sending me on a windswept wave
Of confusion and frustration

You prickly, tickly barnacle
Let's rest here in this cove
You can hide in your crusty cave
And I'll protect your softness

You prickly, tickly barnacle
Scrape me all you want
We both know you couldn't live 
Without me

Relax, you little barnacle
Nature's strongest adhesive
A mother's love
Will never let you go

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Road to Publication

     For years,  I was that person at the cocktail party (or in my case, backyard barbecue), saying "I'm going to write a book someday."  I let that dream percolate on the back burner so long, it almost got lost among the diapers and therapy reports and tax documents of life.  It sat and sat and sat, patiently waiting.
    How ironic, then, that as soon as I turned my attention to my dream in full, I expected it to come true pretty much immediately.   Actually, I thought I had a fairly good idea of the hard work it would take.  I wasn't completely naive, but in hindsight my thought process was as simple as:  Poof!  Book written.  Poof! Book published. 
     After an initial period of discouragement, I began to embrace the process of educating myself.   The more I learn, the more I realize how unrealistic my expectations were.  However, far from being a "dead end,"  the journey of finding my way has become a very fun and pleasant walk down "Hope Lane."  
     One of the best things I've done, and encourage all others who aspire to write books for children to do, is join the Society of Children's Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).  This is a group of people, led by industry professionals, that exists to help educate, encourage, and celebrate children's authors.  Through my membership, I was able to connect with a local critique group.  Once a month, I make a happy stop on "Hope Ln." and get together with other children's writers and enjoy getting and giving feedback on our work. 
     The SCBWI also runs fantastic conferences.  In two days, I'll be heading to the NE (New England) SCBWI Spring conference in Springfield, MA.  Being together in one place with like-minded people can be inspiring.  It also reminds me how much I have to learn.  The encouragement/discouragement roller coaster is at it's most dramatic when I prepare for a conference.  Reading the "faculty" bios is like reading  a "who's who" in children's literature.  Doubt:  I will never have a list of book titles and publication dates after my name!  Hope:  Going to this conference is a positive step towards my goal.  
     I don't know how long Hope Lane is.  However, as long as I don't fall off the roller coaster, and I keep putting one word in front of the other,  I know it won't be a Dead End.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Doing It All Wrong

     I've been noticing a lot of parallels between being a mom and being a writer.  First, you create these characters.  You get to pick out their names.  You have high hopes for them,  and you know pretty much the path you want them to go down.  You think they are perfect!  Then, kids (and characters) start having their own opinions.  Wait, what are you doing?  I often want to say, to both sets - my real 'characters', and the ones on the page.
    Before I gave myself permission to sit down and begin writing in earnest, I read over and over about authors who commented that their characters were 'in charge'.  Honestly, that never made sense to me.  Aren't you the one writing the words? I'd wonder.  However, as I spend increasingly more time in the land of character development, I realize that this generalization exists for a reason.  When I'm writing, I like to stare out the window while I think.  Sure enough, in those thoughtful moments, characters will change on me.  For example, it will occur to me that the guy who I thought was going to detest the new kid has a lot in common with her and might even kind of like her.  A lot of these ideas actually do "surprise" me.
     So, I'm sort of in control, but not really.  I find it's startlingly the same with my kids.  I set up parameters for food choices, amount of TV watching, and bedtimes.  I encourage (or discourage) friendships.  I think I'm doing most of the things I should be doing, then BAM! they lead themselves, and me, down a different path.
     I make a lot of mistakes in both writing and parenting.  Both jobs are fraught with the potential for error.  In the past three weeks I've gotten another rejection from an editor, and have (on separate occasions) made both of my kids cry.  The rejection was totally warranted; I had sent out a manuscript that was several revisions away from having any right to see the light of day.  With the kids, it was painful to know that something I said had hurt their little feelings.   Sometimes I feel so discouraged and wonder, am I doing any of this right?  
     Obviously, I'm not doing all of it right, but I do know I'm trying.  I model for my kids what it is to give a sincere apology.  I help them learn that no one is perfect (this lesson seems to be on auto repeat) and that everyone has room for growth.  On the writing side, I read, I talk to other writers, I go to conferences, and I work and work and work to shape the best stories I can. 
     I hope that once they leave my care, I'll have given my kids and my characters enough.  I want all of my "babies" to go out into the world and make it just a little bit better, on whatever level they can.  I want them to be 'good stories', ones that encourage others, or somehow lighten their loads.  I hope that all who meet them will accept their flaws.  Most of all, I hope they never forget that while it wasn't always perfect, they were born from a place of love and hope.


P.S.  It helps to have a life partner who lifts you up when you're feeling that all you are doing is making mistakes. Here is an excerpt from my currently-being-revised memoir, S.O.S.:  Help! My Significant Other is a Surgeon!

     "I was such a bad mom today," I tell Raj later that night.
     "Why?" he asks, not believing me.
     "Well, for one thing, I left my sick kid with a sitter, then I fed her fast food for dinner, and I also let her watch way too much TV."  All three seemed like major transgressions to me, so far from where I thought I would be when I had previously imagined myself as a parent.
     "Look," Raj says to me, "did you smoke crack today?"
     "No! Of course not!"
     "Did you get drunk and pass out so that when your baby fell off the bed and hit the baseboard heater, you never woke up, and only realized hours later that the baby was screaming and had third degree burns?" he says, describing a scenario he had dealt with at work just that day.
     "Honey, you are not a bad mother."



Friday, April 6, 2012

Mom, is the Easter Bunny Real?

      As a mom, I am faced with numerous questions every day.  Many are innocuous, such as the kind that start with "do you know where my...?"
     Then there is the easy to answer variety:

 "Can I have an air rifle?"
"Can I watch Terminator?"
"Are you ever going to be normal like the other moms?" 
"No.  Wait - what do you mean by that?"
"You know, let us say words that only you think are bad, like stupid?"
"Oh, okay.  NO."

    Every once in awhile you get the big questions; the ones you wish you had a better answer to, or the ones you wish you would never have to answer at all:

"What's so good about Good Friday?"
"Why is that man smoking when you told us smoking can kill you?"
"When I'm a dad, will Grampy be able to play with my kids?"

     Even harder than these tough questions, for many parents, is the ultimate, unavoidable, inevitable line of questioning that sparks the beginning of the end of the wonder years:

     "Mom, are you the tooth fairy?"
     "Is the Easter Bunny real?"
     (and, panic rising in voice):  "Is Santa real?"

     My friend Holly recently dodged the tooth fairy bullet and wrote about it for A Fairy Weak Link. I wish, wish, wish I had read her article before I got the same question from my daughter, Kate.  About a month ago, I made the classic mistake of falling asleep before switching tooth for coin under Kate's pillow.  In the morning, Kate came into my room and said with indignation, "The tooth fairy never came last night!"
    In that dazed state of partial wakefulness, I took a full 30 seconds of plead-the-fifth silence, grasping at any plausible answer. I found none.  "Ummmm...." was all I could muster before Kate pressed on.  
     "I've been wondering for awhile now.  I mean, how come all the spoiled kids get $10 and $20 when all I ever get is a dollar coin? So, are the parents doing that?  It seems like it's you..." she let her voice fade off. 
     In that moment, she seemed so mature, so ready for what I was about to say.  The morning sun was glinting off her long hair, and the curve of her face just looked so, well, grown up, that I forgot the golden rule of parenting in the wonder years (DENY!) and said, "Okay.  Yes. It's me.  I fell asleep and forgot to do it last night. I'm sorry."
     The reaction wasn't pretty.
     "MOM!" Kate said, horrified, "I said I was WONDERING!" Then came the tears.  "Why did you tell me that??"
     So, for at least the 12th time this year, I rescinded my application for Mom of the Year.  I was able to do some backpedalling, based on notes the tooth fairy had written her that were not (NOT) in my handwriting, "Well...I don't know about those....maybe that part of her is real?" It was weak, but she seemed to buy it, and I realized she wanted to buy it. She wanted to still believe. I owed her these last days (months? years?) of believing.
      That is why I was primed and ready when Kate sat down with me on the couch a few days ago with a serious look on her face, and questions at the ready.  
     "Mom, I need to talk to you.   Do Jewish people celebrate Easter and Christmas?"
     "No, they have other holidays," I started, ready to make this into a mini lesson on world religions.
     "I know, I know, Passover, Hannukah," she said.  "What I need to know is, well, Haley (name changed to protect the not-so-innocent) just told me there is no Easter Bunny and no Santa Claus.  But Haley is Jewish, right?"
     I feel the knot in my stomach. Will this end in tears, like our last conversation, where I had dashed her beliefs and squashed her fairy wonder?  
    "Yes," I answered, carefully answering only what I was asked, "Haley is Jewish."
    "Well, good. Because how would she know the truth about the Easter Bunny and Santa?  She's never had them visit.  She doesn't know, but I know, they are real.  Santa and the Easter Bunny are real.  They're real, aren't they, mom?"
     The air hung between us for a split second, the wonder, the joy, the desire to believe practically visible as colors swirling around her like a thought bubble.
     I was not about to kill those two beautiful creatures, as I had the tooth fairy, so I said the thing I knew she wanted, and needed, to hear.
    "Yes," I said, without any doubt in my mind, "they are."